Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Olympics That Changed the World

This week on Cover to Cover, Frank Reiss interviews David Maraniss about Maraniss's latest book Rome 1960. Here's a quick rundown from their conversation:

At the recently-ended Summer Olympics in China, the haul of gold medals by Michael Phelps, the otherworldly speed of the Jamaican sprinters and the fierce competition between American and Chinese gymnasts filled the airwaves for two solid weeks. As did talk of political propaganda, accusations of rule-breaking and other controversies large and small.

While it seems that the Olympics have forever been dominated in such a way, bestselling author David Maraniss argues in his most recent book, Rome, 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, that it was at these particular summer games that the Olympics as we now know them first came into being.

That was the year when the world first became familiar with a clownish fighter from Louisville, Kentucky named Cassius Clay, who used the games as a springboard to become the most famous athlete the world has ever known: Muhammad Ali. But Maraniss goes to some lengths to restore Clay's proper place at the time: a definite second or third banana to the true heroes of that year, African-American track stars Wilma Rudolph and Rafer Johnson.

1960 was also the first Olympics for which an American television network purchased broadcast rights, and an unknown reporter named Jim McKay, working under the most primitive conditions imaginable, debuted in the role that made him as familiar as any Olympic performer.

And the Cold War politics of the day foreshadowed the political propaganda that continues to be inescapable in this quadrennial event that supposedly transcends politics.

But to Marannis--who has won the Pulitzer Prize and authored a string of bestsellers about both sports and politics--these political overtones and social developments don't detract from the games, they give them historical context and make for a fascinating read and a stimulating conversation.

Marannis' writing is unmistakably influenced by his friend and long-time mentor, the late David Halberstam. Interestingly, though, Marannis contrasts his attitude toward sportswriting and historical/political writing. Halberstam, Maraniss says in his Cover to Cover interview, wrote about sports to relax between his more "serious" books. Marannis on the other hand thinks sports can be every bit as significant as politics, and politics can be as trivial as sports. -Frank Reiss

Catch Frank Reiss's interview with David Maraniss Sunday night at 8:00PM, rebroadcast Thursday night at 11:30p on GPB Radio. You can also listen to Cover To Cover on demand at